The core premise of any murder mystery is typically this: who did it? Who committed the murder? Sure, the motive, means and opportunity play into it. And typically, you’re buffeted about by the suppositions of an eccentric detective, effusively hypothesising their way to an elegant solution. But this very trope is why Inkle’s surprise (nay, ambush) of a game, Overboard!, is such a treat.
Overboard! isn’t a whodunnit. It’s a youdunnit.
As the opening moments of Overboard! tinkle and crawl onto your screen, the story begins apace. The year is 1935, you’re on a ship headed to America, and you’re an actress named Veronica Villensey. And your first action as Veronica?
Shoving your wealthy husband overboard. With a name like Villensey, what else could Veronica be but an unapologetic murderer?
It’s not as simple as that, of course; Inkle’s games have a wonderful way of allowing the player to infuse their characters with agency. In the vein of their absolute banger 80 Days, you’re essentially flung into an interactive story, brimming with branching moments. First of all… what do you do with the body? Where do you hide it? Hell, how do you – as Veronica – feel about all of this? The stakes begin to feel very real, very quickly, and before long you’re trying to find someone to pin it on.
Overboard! has a dash of The Last Express about it, only inverted – you’re forced to think like a killer, but because Jon Ingold’s writing is so warm and catty, you begin to like Veronica. She’s so sassy and frothy and fun that you can’t help but root for her to get away with it. As she makes her way around the ship – cut open to reveal a kind of papercraft dollhouse between scenes – every choice made stacks upon every other choice you’ve made. And because Veronica is so financially strapped, she can’t just convince the fuzz that Malcolm took his own life. She needs the insurance money. Someone has to take the fall.
As with Ingold’s masterful Pendragon (which, if you haven’t played, do so right now), Overboard! is designed for repeated playthroughs. Ingold has a deft hand when it comes to designing stories that can be pored over time and time again; because every choice Veronica makes has consequences, there’s an absolute ocean of possibilities (no pun intended) whenever she saunters into a room and lays out her options. It’s a puzzle, basically. A huge, byzantine puzzle with murderous intent and a jazzy kick.
Overboard! was also an absolute surprise – Inkle turned it out in secret as a way to keep busy during the COVID-19 lockdown. Development began back in January of this year, which somehow adds to the sense of fun/urgency/black humour of the whole endeavour.
You can – and truly ought to – grab it right now on Switch, Steam of iPhone or iPad. It’s an utter delight.
Overboard! was reviewed on PC using a code provided by Inkle.